Friday, June 19, 2009
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Un dólar. Hillary Clinton, un dólar.
¿Qué es un dólar?
Puede ser muchas cosas, en efecto. Puede ser, en Bogotá, algo menos de un paquete de cigarrillos, tres empanadas, una peluqueada en la Caracas o un porro gordo y repleto de semillas de la marihuana más fea que se encuentra en la ciudad.
Acá, también, un dolar puede ser muchas cosas. Puede ser, por ejemplo, cinco dumpligs de vegetales o de cerdo en Chinatown, con lo que queda uno medio almorzado, o un pedazo de la clásica y grasosa pizza neoyorkina en el West Village, con la que uno queda medio almorzado y medio muerto, o una lata de soda en cualquier tienda de la ciudad, sea ésta de Coca-Cola, Pepsi o Sprite. Pero nada más. Ni siquiera una montada en el metro, una baraja de cartas, un periódico o un te. Nada.
Mucho se habla sobre el billete de un dólar, sobre sus significados e implicaciones. Sobre la necesidad de volverlo moneda, por ejemplo, hecho que se está produciendo sin mucho entusiasmo, pues las monedas no son frecuentes y uno, más bien, todavía termina todos los días con un fajo enorme de billetes que sin embargo solo vale 12 dólares, dos cervezas en un pub o una pizza algo más sofisticada en un restaurante. La razón, tal vez, puede ser que los gringos les tienen miedo a un mundo sin billetes de un dólar, representante éste del poderío hegemónico de la moneda que representa. Por eso le dedican mitos, 2 películas y estudios sobre conspiraciones. Porque el billete de un dólar, ese que compra un pedazo de pizza de queso, otro símbolo de este país de estados, es como una segunda bandera para los gringos, una bandera que los hace Potencia, la Primera Potencia, una bandera que los puso por encima de todos durante todo el siglo pasado.
Ahora bien, ¿qué será del billete de un dólar tras esta profunda crisis en la que se encuentra la economía del país que en Él confía? Ni Él lo sabe.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Mothers vs. Sons
Thanks to mothers, men have not destroyed this wicked world. Mothers are thoughtful, serene, understanding, and the only human beings who can make men’s greedy and pretentious obsessions with power and money come down to earth. But mothers are also obstinate, stubborn, intense, silly, and the most exasperating element in men’s routine. Yet this is not a tragedy, but a generation gap people have to understand. As normal as it to see a mother patronizing her son, it is also common to notice a young man sat next to his mom, awfully annoyed, jaw-muscles visibly tightened, eyes focused beyond, and an expression that screams inside ‘I wanna kill myself!’. This is part of life, however; it is the way relationships between mothers and sons are. A way to accurately explain this common situation is by examining generation gaps in specific time and space. Generalizing in human relations is a big mistake, and a far more precise way to explain them is with particular examples. Generation gaps are the origin of problems between mothers and sons, and this can be seen both in Woody Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks, a hilarious, short story compiled in the movie New York Stories, and through the example of Julian and his mother’s relationship narrated by Flannery O’Connor in Everything That Rises Must Converge.
Sheldon is a brainy, nervous New York lawyer who is being always irritated by his infuriating, Jewish, shrill-voiced mother, Mrs. Millstein. Having grown up during the Second World War, she teases him all the time, embarrasses him, criticizes him and patronizes him in front of his girlfriend, family and friends. Every remark from Mrs. Millstein to Sheldon, who was raised in the liberal society of the ‘60s, has a bad connotation of him: that he is getting bald, that he had red hair when young, that he does not like her apartment, that he has changed his last name to Mills, that he does not take his bread with butter, that he always wet his bed when he was a kid. Sheldon complains about her all permanently with his 15-year-long therapist, realizing he wishes she would disappear.
Since his mother also disapproves of his fiancé Lisa, he is forced to take them both –and Lisa’s children– to a magic show, where Mrs. Millstein is chosen to be part of the act. She is put in a box that has swords stuck through it and she disappears like she is supposed to, but then she never reappears. Suddenly, Sheldon’s nightmare fades away. At work, in bed, in his finances: in all aspects of life he seems to get over all his troubles. All of a sudden, however, his mother reappears in the sky over Manhattan. She starts gossiping with every random New Yorker about Sheldon, providing his personal details and embarrassing traits, convincing everyone that Lisa is no good for him. This puts a strain on his relationship with Lisa and they separate. Sheldon goes to see a physic, Treva, to try to bring his mother back to the real world. Treva's experiments do not work, but Sheldon falls for her, not realizing that it is because of her similarity to his mother. Therefore, when he introduces Treva to his mother, she approves of her and decides to come back to Earth.
In the end, Mrs. Millstein gets her own way. Her plan of marring Sheldon to the right woman, according to her judgment, is achieved. This reveals that despite generation gaps, mothers occasionally are able to dominate their sons the way the want to. In the words of Washington Post’s writer Hal Hinson, Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks “is an exploration of every man's horror of horrors. Delivered as a kind of psychoanalytic confession, the film is a surrealistic comedy about emasculation -- a modern fable about a man's struggle to wiggle out of his diapers”.
Regardless of any psychoanalytic interpretation, the difference between mother and son is both evident and droll in this story, which demonstrates one of the major outcomes of generation gaps: there is not a single aspect in which mothers and sons agree, and every single detail of life is a potential fight between them. In this case, their opinions about Judaism and relationships, the way they eat and talk, their vision of the past and their beliefs about the present; every facet of life is a maddening debate between them. Due to the fact that Sheldon and his indomitable mother were raised in dissimilar periods of history, in which moral codes and social relationships were different, their relashionship will never be peaceful.
In spite of the Freudian background of Allen’s story, this is a witty way to understand the generation gap. Which is totally acceptable. However, it is also necessary to have a more concrete example, which is exactly what O’Connor provides in her short story. By the way, it is also important to consider that The Milstein’s conflict takes place in the cosmopolitan city of New York, whereas the one we are going to start to discuss takes place in the south of the United States, where racial beliefs were more entrenched and where the acknowledgement of changes was more difficult. That is why the second disparity I present is a more radical example of the generation gap.
While in Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks Sheldon is a totally different person from his mother because he grew up in a totally different context, the years after 1968, which is the same temporal difference between Julian and his mother. Everything That Rises Must Converge was written in 1969 and, from the start, it demonstrates that its main point is about the disparity between two generations, about two incompatible personalities, about the generation gap. The ‘60s was the decade when the counter-culture and social revolution took place, giving birth to movements in favor of civil rights or gay rights and against the war and discrimination; among others. Overall, especially in the south, the ‘60s changed a lot of moral paradigms that had repressed people and had discriminated against minorities, especially the black community.
Julian’s mother was born before these changes and Julian is growing up while they are happening. And that is why we can begin qualifying her as a shameless racist who clashes with her liberal son over every single event or topic. The plot of the story is just an excuse O’Connor uses to illustrate this disparity, since it is an everyday, ordinary story: the story of Julian taking his mother to an specialized gym for old, overweight people in the city, and encountering a reality she doesn’t accept on the way there. So more that the actual plot, the importance of the story is its setting, the social and cultural conditions to which it refers.
Specially, O’Connor is talking about a discrepancy regarding the role of blacks in society, about which she says, “It’s ridiculous. It’s simply not realistic. They should rise, yes, but on their side of the fence”, and Julian responds, “we have mixed feelings.”(4) In addition, they have different opinions about cultural and moral values, of which Julian says, “true culture is in the mind”, and she replies, “it’s in the heart, and in and in how you do things and how you do things is because of who you are.” (5) And no sooner has she insulted a black person, than she is pontificating about ‘Us’ Vs. ‘The others’: “It must be the afternoon sun. I see we have the bus for ourselves”. (7) Nevertheless, the enlightening fragment is when O’Connor writes in her own voice, not only about dissimilar feelings, but also about certain bitterness that Julian’s mother feels:
“What she meant when she said she had won was that she had brought him up successfully and had sent him to college and that he had turned out so well-good looking (her teeth had gone unfilled so that his could be straightened), intelligent (he realized he was too intelligent to be a success), and with a future ahead of him (there was of course no future a head of him).” (9)
The life she wanted to give her son, an educated life, made him, ironically, completely different from her: aware of social inequalities, of discrimination’s injustice, and of dogmatism’s problems. Which is why he condemns his mother’s behavior. However, that is not the only aspect O’Connor wants to show; she also suggests that people’s moral values should not be judged, because they are part of the people’s mental structure, one that has been shaped throughout years and years of interaction with a particular society. Julian’s mother was not going to change her mind because the world had changed. On the cotrary, she would criticize the new world based on her conceptions and moral values, which were too deep-rooted to change suddenly.
That impossibility of mind-changing is what Julian realizes when his mother falls down, while she is exasperatedly escaping from an unpleasant situation –a black woman refusing alms– in which she has seen that the world has really changed and that there is nothing she can do. After all, they both learn their lesson: Julian learns that his mother has a different morality he could not judge or pretend to change, and his mother learns that she can not judge the world in which she lives, because its values have changed.
These two examples of generation gaps are very good to see that the clash between mothers and sons is inevitable; as inevitable, in fact, as the clash between different cultures we see every day in the news. One of the most problematic realities nowadays in the world is the collision between different cultural mentalities. The conflicts between Israelis and Muslims, Muslims and Americans or Europeans and Africans have become issues that threaten the world peace and have to be understood. As a mater of fact, we are not talking about simple differences of opinions, but about a disparity in mentalities that inherently clash and create deep conflict.
Society shapes the way people think. Since the characteristics of each society are not the same, neither are people’s thoughts. That is what happens in cultural clashes, just like in generation gaps. Mothers and sons were raised in different generations, and that is always going to make them clash. However, the lesson O’Connor suggests is quite revealing: the generation gap can be solved with understanding and tolerance. Differences in cultural attitudes will never be eliminated, but they could be accepted. It is not that we cannot live with diversity. Variety is not the problem. We just have to understand it and tolerate it. Narrowness is the problem.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Synecdoche, New York
Cuando la ambición no es contraproducente, sino excelente, el resultado es majestuoso. Cuando uno hace una película sobre todo -es decir, sobre todos los elementos que hacen parte de la vida, el todo, y al tiempo la hace sobre cada pequeña variable, las partes-, y el resultado es bueno, uno ha hecho una película memorable. Synecdoche, New York se trata del todo y de sus partes. Y lo hace bien. Esta es, si bien compleja, una de esas películas que siguen volteando en la cabeza el lunes por la mañana cuando uno llega a la oficina.
Tal vez toque verla dos veces para darse cuenta que esta es una película que habla del hombre y sus miedos, confusiones, contradicciones y represiones. Tal vez la segunda vez que la vea sea por necesidad, y la tercera por voluntad, así como la cuarta y quinta. Tal vez toque ver todas la películas escritas por Charlie Kaufman para darse cuenta de que es un filósofo que lleva años hablando de lo mismo: de cómo los deseos se interceptan en la realidad, de cómo el arte es una reconstrucción de la realidad que se vuelve real, de cómo la vida es plana y a la vez abrupta, de cómo la realización de nuestros sueños choca con la de los demás, quienes, también, tienen sueños legítimos que valen la pena. Kaufman habla, en general, de cómo la vida es una carrera que emprenden las personas todos los días por conseguir sus objetivos, y chochan con sus conterráneos en el camino, hasta el punto de hacer el mundo lo que es: una telaraña inexplicable y absurda.
Y aún visible. Aún objeto de una película. La cual, por cierto, se trata de un director de teatro, Caden Cotard (Philip Seymor Hoffman), en problemas con su esposa e incrustado en una vida monótona y aburrida, que se gana una plata con la que puede hacer la obra que le plazca. De ahí emprende una travesía sin un objetivo concreto -como la vida-, en la que el escenario se toma una bodega inmensa en un barrio de Nueva York y la trama es nada más que la vida misma, en la que los personajes son los actores mismos, en la que el mundo va cambiando, las personas se van multiplicando, y a veces incluso se van clonando.
Porque en el proceso en el que los hombres y mujeres van detrás de sus sueños y chocan entre sí, la gente va cambiando, el mundo, y así. Eso es lo que pasa a medida que la obra, años tras años y años, se va haciendo. El límite entre la realidad y la obra se rompe: los actores están recreando la realidad explícitamente y, por eso, implícitamente, están actuando en la realidad. Los esquemas se rompen y la obra toma realidad y la realidad toma ficción sobre sí misma.
Caterine Keener (Adele Lack, la esposa de Cotard), tiene algo que siempre me ha conmovido: será su voz ronca, su pelo no necesariamente liso, su estilo no necesariamente hippie, su suavidad no necesariamente tonta. Desde Virgen a los 40, pasando por ¿Quién quiere ser John Malchovich? y Capote, por las que mereció Oscar, Keener siempre me ha gustado sin necesariamente emocionarme. Y esta actuación reforzó mi gusto: Adele Lack es una conchuda, inconsiderada y encantadora lesbiana que deja a su esposo por irse a Berlín con su hija, a quien introduce en el mundo del arte, la droga y los tatuajes.
Pero hay personajes especiales por todas partes en esta producción, como la cándida y siempre fiel segunda esposa de Cotard, Hazel, o el imprudente e egoísta actor que hace el papel de Cotard en la obra, Sammy Barnathan.
Y es que esto se trata de personajes memorables, de esos que le causan a uno risa al otro día de haberlos conocido, que tienen mañas, problemas, paranoias, sueños. Personas, al fin y al cabo, que comparten el mismo suelo con uno y no pretenden, en lo más mínimo, que sus caminos no se interpongan en los nuestros. Porque ellos tienen el suyo, que es más importante que el nuestro, así como nosotros, que más importante que el suyo. Así es Nueva York: una red de caminos que se interponen entre sí.
Tarde de libros y dinero
Boté a la caneca 31 horas de mi vida sin el más mínimo sentido de la consideración. 31 horas en Nueva York. 31 horas en dólares. A las 6pm del jueves con los Coreanos hasta las 3am del viernes. A las 8pm del viernes con los suizos hasta las 4am del sábado, cuando salí del quinto bar de la noche con los franceses. A las 10pm del sábado en un Halloween inventado por una compañía de fiestas llamada The Danger, de la que salí a las 3am del domingo. Y el domingo, como si no hubiera sido suficiente, brunch desde las 5pm a punta de champaña con jugo de naranja –llámese mimosa– con la ecuatoriana. A las 3am del lunes, por ultimo, estaba saliendo de un bar de cócteles llamado Milk and Honey. Boté sin piedad 31 horas de mi vida. Porque no aprendí nada. Porque se me olvidó la mitad. Porque no hice nada productivo que contribuyera con mi futuro.
Y no me habría sentido tan mal si hubiera sido gratis. Pero tenía que pagar 400 dólares por 31 horas de improductividad. En el momento en que los gasté no pasaba por mi cabeza su significancia, hasta el lunes, cuando me levanté a la 1pm y cada dólar gastado se había convertido en un espasmo en la espalda que me estaba matando sin compasión. Me tuve que levantar de la muerte y algo tenía que hacer por mi idoneidad. Algo de lo que no me arrepentiría. Algo que tuviera un beneficio a largo plazo.
Busqué los libros más importantes de la historia de la lengua inglesa, tanto de ficción como de no ficción. Time tiene una buena selección, de 100, algo parcializada hacia Inglaterra. También existe una famosa de 1,000 realizada por The New York Times, que no solo es demasiado grande sino que no jerarquiza los libros. En todo caso, hice una lista personal, basando en otras dos o tres listas, y logré una selección interesante, con unos diez libros de ficción y otros diez de no ficción. Woolf, Larkin, Bukowski, Updike, Fitzgerald, McEwan y así.
Primero fui a una tienda de todos tipo de cosas usadas, entre microondas y faldas setenteras, donde tuve escarbar para encontrar un solo Wolfe en una biblioteca de guías y libros de cocina. Ahí me atendió una negra de algo menos de 50 años, flaca, con gafas colgadas al cuello, que me vendió The Right Stuff por 3 dólares –por ser de tapa dura–.
En la cuadra siguiente –2nd Ave. en el East Village– entré a una de esas tiendas de libros usados que parecen francesas, con gatos dormidos sobre las torres de libros, olor a café y un viejo cascarrabias al que, se sabe, uno nunca se le debe dirigir. Tanto el guayabo de cuatro días como el dolor de la espalda me tenían hecho un idiota. Además, Bob Dylan a un volumen abrumador y los gatos no me dejaban concentrar. Por eso, no encontré un solo libro en media hora, hasta que le pedí ayuda al metalero que trabaja para el viejo quisquilloso. Le dí al de los pantalones apretados la lista, y –con ganas obvias de deshacerse de mí– encontró 6 libros. Thompson, Orwell, Joyce, Lessing, Eliot y así. Me senté sudando y me puse a comparar precios y escoger cuál me llevaba. Sin embargo, el hecho de haberle pedido el favor de que encontrara los libros al flaco de ropa negra me obligaba a darle propina o a comprarlos todos. Encima, mi falta de decisión y mi dulce guayabo no me dejaban pensar en paz. Finalmente decidí, impulsivamente, comprarlos todos con los ojos cerrados, sin comentarle una palabra al viejo de guantes de cuero. Salí de la tienda con la maleta repleta de libros viejos, en buena calidad en general, con un recibo de 36 dólares en la mano, el cual boté con rabia en una caneca.
¿Me sentía mejor, como había pensado que iba a ser? Por ningún motivo. Me sentía como si hubiera matado a un niño o le hubiera robado pan a un hambriento. No había posibilidad de que me sintiera peor en ese momento. Me había gastado 40 dólares después del exceso del fin de semana. El objetivo de hacer algo considerado, me llevó a un escalón incluso más bajo del que estaba cuando me levanté el lunes. Cuando salí de la tienda, lo único que podía pensar era en la manera como iba hacer para gastar menos durante la semana, como comer arroz todos los días, o no comer, o dumplings de un dólar, o barras dietéticas con 300 calorías, o hielo, o McDonald’s todos los días, aunque eso ya sería un lujo.
El único libro que de verdad quería empezar a leer esta semana no había sido encontrado por el flaco de arete en la nariz. Y tuve, en mi medio de mi inconciencia, que entrar a Barnes and Nobel para encontrarlo en un par de segundos, y –en una acción de desmesura, inconsideración y estupidez– compré el libro. Era The Armies of the Night, de Norman Mailer, por 14 dólares. Tanta era mi depresión, mi profundo arrepentimiento, que la cajera de anillos en la mano y sonrisa impactante me tuvo que preguntar qué era esa tristeza que veía en mis ojos. No pude ni quise responderle, y salí del edificio en el peor de los remordimientos. Me había gastado 50 dólares en libros en una hora, sin razón alguna, después de haberme gastado 400 en 31 horas improductivas.
Nueva York, sin embargo, es la ciudad de las oportunidades. Y tenía que encontrarme en Washington Square, en medio de un desasosiego que me impedía caminar con ritmo y oír música al tiempo, con un tipo con barba de cuatro días en una caseta anaranjada en la que colgaba un cartel que decía, “Book X Change: we give you money for your books”.
Una fila de 15 estudiantes con maletas grandes esperaban con paciencia mientras el tipo de gorra verde y gafas de sol ochenteras cotizaba los libros, los escogía, y daba a los estudiantes billetes, que empezaban por los diezes y terminaban por los cienes. Así de fácil. Libros de todo tipo, la mayoría prácticamente nuevos y de texto, de esos que son un manual para seguir una clase, grandes, con texto objetivo y sin literatura, de los que valen más de 100 dólares y pesan toneladas, eran intercambiados por billetes en un par de minutos.
Hice la fila, y le pregunté con voz cortada al tipo con pantalones anchos y celular morado cuánto me daba por algunos de mis libros. El que más me daba era el primero que había comprado en la tienda de la negra con cola de caballo: The Right Stuff, de Tom Wolfe. Porque era de portada dura y estaba en buen estado, el tipo me podía dar 5 dólares más de que yo había pagado, es decir 8. Lo mismo con Rabbit, Run, de John Updike, por el que me dio 10.
Salí de Washington Square contento, preguntándome por qué rayos la gente vende los libros que tanto les cuesta leer y terminar. Poner un libro en la biblioteca, después de haberlo leído página por página, es como un trofeo que uno le da al mejor amigo que tuvo en la semana anterior. Pero acá no. Acá no se van a encartar con libros gigantes, llenos de filosofía política y citas de Kant. Acá van y los venden.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I woke up at eight in the morning. Got myself an espresso, orange juice and a white, Chinatown apple. I searched online for something extraordinary to do in this extraordinary city, and figured out that I wanted to do something ordinary: go on Craigslist.com, find three rooms where I could live, and go check them out. The criteria was that they had to be in the East Village, and that the apartments had to be shared with one person only; not two or three, just one single fellow resident of this bulging metropolis. The objective was not to find a new room to live in, but to see what the market had to offer me, and what kind of characters had the city to show me. I found the places, called, set up the meetings for the afternoon, and made the schedule for my day.
St Marks Street is New York’s jazziest spot. It is the heart of the East Village, a neighborhood full of eccentric young people trying to deal with a nasty hang over, among other idiosyncrasies, and all kinds of bars, pubs, clubs, discotechs, you name it. St Marks is also the place where all the extravagancies of the Village clash together. From a very fancy bar decorated with small statutes of smart jockeys, to tattoo-and-piercing shops where you can see the AIDS virus climbing up the graphitized walls. In addition, St Marks is packed with hat, sunglasses and scarves shops, which all sell the same things and are owned by a Hindu or someone who looks like a Hindu. Anyway, in the midst of St Marks Street is where Monika lives. When I called her, she said that tomorrow at 7pm was okay for her, but, since it needed to be today, I insisted and got an appointment for 530pm. I got there half an hour before, loitered around the shops and rang up to her apartment on time. Monika is a chubby, cute, thirty-five-year-old woman. She lives in the last apartment of the first floor’s hall, which avoids all the noise from the street, and has a brown-and-orange carpet that welcomes you to her cozy, small joint: two bedrooms, one bathroom and a living room/kitchen/dining room. She has it clean and in shape, however, with orange and white decoration, new furniture, clean tables and a truly impeccable kitchen. Her bedroom is far better and bigger than the other one, since she makes it look like a living room, as she often invites people over, and is decked with different tones of purple. There is a TV, a laptop and an Iphone being charged. The other room is not bad, though: it’s closer to the red-and-silver bathroom and is big enough to fit a queen-size bed, a desk and a closet. It costs 1100 dollars, all utilities included, counting Internet. The first thing Monika wants to let me know –in a rather good, accent-free English– is both that she is a partygoer and that she works a lot as the assistant of a real-state monster. She wakes up at 9am everyday, gets to the office in the West Village at 10am, works until 6pm, and goes out almost every day to bars, friends’ houses, clubs, you name it. She is wearing a simple, aquamarine top, blue jeans, and has subtle, thin make-up on her eyes. She tells me she’s been living in New York for 10 years, a city she says she is in love with, and was born and raised in Poland, a country that she doesn’t show a lot of affection for. Monika is looking for a roommate who can replace her two-year-long, Moroccan one. She seems to like me, doesn’t ask many questions, and says goodbye with the same smile she has had the whole conversation we have had about, mostly, New York and its wild nightlife.
Esta means ‘this’ in Spanish. One can use it to point at a feminine object, like a table, or to point at a woman one doesn’t respect much, like a prostitute. In the States, however, Esta was a popular first name before the ‘30s. I had no idea that the person of the second place was a woman, until I met her. When I called, she didn’t pick up the phone, but returned the call right away. Her voice was like the voice of a fifty-year-old, asthmatic, neurotic man who complains to his neighbors all the time. She had been very picky about the time of the meeting, until we finally arranged that at 6. In addition, she strangely asked me several times if I was a student at NYU who was actually currently studying at NYU. As a matter of fact, from the start she seemed very picky and judgmental. From Monika’s I went there by foot, since Esta’s place was only 15 blocks away. She lives in one of those five-building residential complexes near the east river on Ave C and 18th street, a very family-orientated neighborhood, calm and pleasant, with delis on every corner, healthy blooming trees, and kids playing with their nannies. Esta called me at 6:01 asking why hadn’t I gotten there, which I did 4 minutes after. I ring the bell of the 7th apartment of the 7th floor –the apartment 7g–, and an old, wrinkled woman called Esta opens immediately, as she was waiting behind the door. She seems pleased and appreciative of my appearance, and gives me her ill hand as a greeting. Her accent is very strong; she has short, black hair and wears sweatpants and a big, old t-shirt with a MoMA slogan. Behind her black-rimmed glasses there is a woman who seems to have suffered a lot, one who is waiting for death to come, one who tries to look happy but whose eyes betray her, one whose life is in between her apartment and the art studio where she works once a week, an artist whose outdated house is covered with her own paintings. She asks me again about my career status, about the classes I’m taking, and about the time I spend working everyday. Esta shows me the apartment in no more than 3 minutes. Her son occupies the living room and I wasn’t able to see it because of two dusty folding screens marking it off from the rest of the apartment. When I ask her about him –whether he lives there or not– she avoids the question saying, “he’s staying here, he’ll never bother you”, which doesn’t tell me if he is actually living there temporarily. The bathroom is very old-fashioned, dirty, and well organized, about which she remarks that the window-drawer will be all for me. In fact, throughout the tour, rather than using the hypothetical ‘would’, (i.e. ‘..It would be yours..’), she uses the future will (i.e., ‘..It will be yours..’), as if it were a fact the I was moving in. My prospective, nine-hundred-dollars room is big: it has a huge mattress and no bed, and is filled with rusty furniture. It has a TV that doesn’t have a control and there is no wireless Internet or air conditioning. When I ask about the latter, she replies that she hates air-con, and points out that there are two fans –one of which was once white but now looks brown–. After the apartment tour, Esta invites me to the dining room. “Lets talk about you”, she says, and asks me about authors, history, art and music, concluding the conversation with how special this quiet neighborhood is. Before saying goodbye and setting up when exactly –the hour– I’m going to call her to tell her whether or not I’m taking the room, she utters with her manly voice, “I have a feeling, Daniel, that you will love this beautiful neighborhood, and, don’t worry, no one is going to bother you”. She gives me her crippled hand and opens the door for me, since I wasn’t able to. Two blocks away, after I put on my headphones, my phone rings, I pick up, and I just listen, “Daniel, just to tell you that I actually have air conditioning, we (me and her) just have to install it, I’ll talk to you tomorrow at noon”.
Alexis calls himself Lex, and he makes me know that right away. Then, before asking me when I want to see the room, he asks me the period of time I plan to be living there, which I have no idea; the mere, basic question takes me by surprise. I say 6 months. He pauses for a moment, before giving me the address, sounding somewhat reluctant. The place is located on 2nd Ave. and Ave C, which is far east in the East Village, close to Houston St and the East River Park. The atmosphere of the area is a mix between the two previous ones. Although one feels calm and the buzz of rock-and-roll life is smaller, one can still see skinny girls dressed in flashy colors donning huge sunglasses with yellow lens. I get to the bricked-building with black staircases. I buzz the apartment C, according to what Lex had told me, and, after I ask for him, a guy tells me that it is the wrong apartment. Next to the intercom there is a red-haired guy and a long-skirted girl having a cigarette. They both look at me, whisper something I can’t understand, and shamelessly laugh about me. Then, a new funky guy gets there –silver tie, black shirt, beret, old-fashioned suitcase–, and chats with the other two about the interview at MTV he just had, which apparently went great. I call Lex twice, without leaving a message, and he doesn’t pick up. I realize that the fact that the third potentially new roommate stood me up was part of the eventualities I could encounter in a day like this. After all, New Yorkers are not concerned about wasting strangers’ time, and the fact that I don’t have a third profile doesn’t mean that the third experience didn’t tell me something about someone: Lex was never interested in neither showing me the apartment nor meeting me.
To live with Monika would be very interesting, and it is obvious that that is the best option I found. She seems like a nice girl, who can introduce me to new people and some sort of a new nightlife. She knows the city, she is very easygoing, and she appears to be an organized, clean person. However, I would not like to see her with a hang over, wearing nothing but panda eyes, smudged lipstick, and a huge, repugnant baby doll, eating pepperoni pizza and drinking Pepsi from the bottle. Moreover, the room is a bit expensive and small, and living in the heart of St Marks St could be quite vexing. Esta, on the other hand, would be the worst mistake I could make in my life. She wouldn’t hesitate to judge me about getting barefacedly drunk every week. Likewise, she would question my girlfriend coming over regularly, and probably wouldn’t let her sleep in my room, making her sleep in the living room with her single, old son. Since she has an unlimited phone plan, as she pointed out more than one time, Esta would call me all the time to see at what time I would going to get home and what I would going to have for dinner; and whether or not it would be healthy for me. In addition, I can imagine her lazy, lousy son: a forty-year-old, fat, bald, bold, unemployed guy named Sherman or Sheldon, who lives off his mother’s back, leaves his dirty dishes in the sink, drops hairs all over the bathroom, and was known in high school as shittyface, or shabbit. Lastly, the third option seemed to be quite interesting, specially because of the people laughing at me, but there is not enough information to judge the situation, even though that I guy who doesn’t bother to call and just say ‘don’t come’, is not a very reliable insight.
On my way back home, I took down Clinton Street, a lively crowded place. This time, however, the police had closed it from tip to tale, since a shoot-out had taken place one hour ago. Today’s newspaper didn’t say anything about it, and I suppose that it will be one more unknown shoot-out that takes place in a room once posted on Craigslist.com.